Matthew Taylor: A few words on fairness

The Orioles are currently in first place. But by the end of a 162-game season they won’t be, and it’s largely due to the fact that baseball is a fair sport.

First, let’s define fairness in this context. Fairness doesn’t relate to payroll. The balance of baseball bucks decidedly favors roughly a quarter of major league teams. Instead, I use fairness in relation to the concept of “May the best team win.” Stated simply, a 162-game regular season doesn’t allow for flukes.

Love it or hate it, the length of the baseball season tests a team’s true abilities. There are win streaks, and there are losing streaks, but over time, consistency in either direction determines your fate. You must repeatedly defeat common opponents over the course of several months to become a winner. That’s fair.

Baseball used to be even fairer than it is now. Before 1969 there were no divisions, just a 10-team American League and a 10-team National League. One winner emerged from each. In 1968, neither of those teams had a lead of less than nine games when the regular season ended. Sadly for O’s fans, the second-place Birds trailed the eventual World Series champion Detroit Tigers by 12 games in the American League. The point is there could be little doubt after 162 games which two teams had proven themselves better than the rest.

Three divisions, (now) two wild card, and imbalanced scheduling in each league, among other factors, have eroded much of the “May the best team win” simplicity of baseball’s regular season. Among the reasons for this erosion is that sports fans enjoy unpredictable outcomes or, at the very least, ones that aren’t determined until the last possible moment. Entertainment value, and the correlated ability to attract eyeballs, trumps this core fairness in determining winners.

There isn’t much clamoring for a return to the ways of the past. Baseball’s revenues would suffer greatly were the regular season to produce just one winner in each league. (It would however create a scenario where the networks could shove the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry down our collective throats even more than they already do, and who thought that was possible?) Nevertheless, it would be a fairer way to determine the two best teams.

Sometimes I imagine what it would be like were Major League Baseball operated like soccer’s English Premier League: Twenty teams play a long season, one winner emerges and the worst squads are relegated to a lower division. That’s more than “May the best team win” - it’s “May the best team win and the worst teams get the heck out of town.”

So while it’s never easy to watch the Orioles tumble toward the bottom of the standings as the season progresses, at least we don’t have to worry about our beloved Birds getting booted out of the major leagues altogether. After all, I can only take so much fairness in one sport.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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